Star Trek: The Original Series: Season One Blu-ray ReviewApril 20, 2009
The Star Trek franchise begins its journey onto Blu-ray Disc where it first began: a revolutionary but not widely accepted 1960s television series whose legacy would not take shape until years after the show's swift demise. There could not be a more fitting starting point while the franchise stands at the threshold of a grandiose modern rebirth.
To many Blu-ray Disc adopters the release of Star Trek: The Original Series: Season One with re-mastered elements will be entirely new. For seasoned high definition veterans that braved the infamous high-def format war, fond memories of a nearly identical HD DVD set are fresh on the brain. As fantastic a set that CBS and Paramount crafted for the now defunct format, a few commendable upgrades crown this Blu-ray edition the one to beat.
One area of concern with the HD DVD set is an aesthetically pleasing and unique plastic and cardboard dual-layered package that failed at adequately keeping the discs within it safe. This miscue has been addressed on Blu-ray with a standard thick Elite case that houses all seven discs on swing-panels within. An outer sleeve or O-Sleeve adds a touch of pizzazz to a run-of-the-mill but more importantly functional home for the discs.
The extensive restoration on Star Trek: The Original Series began with the tattered original film prints which were scanned frame-by-frame into a computer and then thoroughly cleaned to remove cracks, dirt, and other unwelcome blemishes. In addition, saturation was increased to pull out the primary colors and add a much needed dose of "pop" to the picture.
Of course the restoration went beyond repairing the original prints and completely rebuilt many of the show's primitive special effects sequences. Purists balked at this decision when the re-mastered sets appeared on HD DVD and DVD because the original effects appeared to be shelved indefinitely in favor of the swanky new yet tastefully inserted new effects. The Blu-ray edition allows you to use the "Angle" button on the remote to switch between the original and newly created effects offering the best of both worlds. Trust me when I say you will be glad for the new effects when enabled to effortlessly perform an A/B comparison.
The restoration's success is clear as a cloudless sky in the 1080p VC-1 encoded 1.33:1 high definition transfer. Contrast is excellent, the deliberate use of primary colors on the Star Trek set jump off the screen, and detail is outstanding for a show filmed over 40 years ago. Better yet, the VC-1 encode on Blu-ray slightly bests the MPEG-4 encode employed on HD DVD that was forced to operate on significantly smaller discs. The differences are subtle when switching between identical scenes between the formats, but every now and then compression issues like artifacting and blocking popping up on HD DVD are far less apparent or avoided entirely on Blu-ray.
An unlikely restoration was performed on Alexander Courage's timeless score, re-recorded from scratch by the exact same size orchestra employed to originally bring it to life. Hearing this score blast in lossless 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a real treat for the ears. It sounds dead on accurate, yet is fuller and more alive than the original recording ever was. Each "Swoosh" of the Enterprise during the opening title sequence is so perfectly mixed to the front, side and rear surrounds that my head actually turned the first on the first pass. Stepping up to lossless audio benefits episodes as well with remarkably crystal clear dialogue and the occasional effective strong use of directional surrounds when warranted by the action on-screen. The original mono track is also included in Dolby Digital 2.0 with French and Spanish alternatives.
Another upgrade from the previously released DVD and HD DVD versions is found on each disc's main menus. The new menu is a streamlined bridge console with basic Enterprise schematics and snippets of footage on the view screen. It is clean, easy to navigate and a welcome addition. Also of note and a great "Trek" primer is the first full trailer for J. J. Abrams' Star Trek film plays in full high definition and surround sound before disc one's menu boots up.
Paramount and CBS have created a new Star Trek online portal accessible exclusively via BD-Live that will be accessible from all Star Trek Blu-ray releases. The coolest thing about this feature is not the content itself but a simple yet revolutionary pre-load screen that alerts you when new content is available. The site is still "under construction" and will be until the April 28 release date, but as of this review there are pictures galleries, videos and cast & crew descriptions. It will even tell you how many MBs of new data are available but that feature was still being worked on as the numbered offered was way off.
The Star Trek online portal resembles an Enterprise console screen and includes links for Cast, Creative Staff, Characters, Database (Aliens, Ships, Technology, Science and Medical, Places), Photo Galleries, CBS BD-Live Community, Exclusive Star Trek Bonus Videos, and More CBS Paramount Trailers (all for DVDs). Three short videos are available at this time as either 20MB standard definition or 50MB high definition downloads. They are Saving the Show (2:04), The Sounds of Star Trek (2:03) and Filming the Galaxy (1:58). If these could not fit on the seven discs allotted for the actual show -- and it appears they would not have -- then offering a download option is a great way to deliver the content and draw new Blu-ray owners into the world of BD-Live.
An annoying oddity with the Star Trek online portal menus is the lack of an intuitive "Back" button. Hitting "Back" or "O" on the PS3 remote will prompt to stop the disc negating that action as an option. After playing around with several buttons the Pop-Up Menu button revealed itself as "Back." Less intuitive that could not be so please, CBS and Paramount, add a line of text to the main menu that spells out how to use "Back."
Most of the on-disc bonus features on Blu-ray are presented in standard definition as they were on the HD DVD version. In fact, several never made the format jump and were left off Blu-ray entirely presumably for space concerns given the improved VC-1 and DTS-HD Master Audio bitrate. These include the Star Trek Online MMO Game Preview (useless and not missed), Trek Connections featurette, and Star Trek: Beyond the Final Frontier History Channel documentary. Unlike the "flipper" HD DVD where extras from previously released DVD versions were on the B-side which had to be manually changed like an old vinyl record, the Blu-ray maintains its modern configuration with no "flipping" required.
The following extras were on the flip side on the HD DVD release, are presented in standard definition and previously appeared on DVD before HD DVD rendering them far from new.
High definition special features available on almost every episode include Data Bookmarks (re: standard bookmarking with a "Trekified" name) and a picture-in-picture feature, Starfleet Access. With the click of a button, viewers can open up a split-screen image when available with the showing running on the left and interviews, information, etc. displaying on the right. This effect nearly fills a 16x9 screen which is a creative way to expand upon the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio on modern widescreen viewing devices. The supplemental information is broken down into Science, Technology, Personal Files and Genesis, i.e. creating the new CGI effects. There are so many show intricacies and restoration dissected about by numerous experts that the material is almost overwhelming to digest.
Starfleet Access is available on the following episodes (note: The Galileo Seven is not included though it was on HD DVD):
Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century (20:06) is an in-depth look at the painstaking process of restoring Star Trek. It delves deep into the why and how CBS and Paramount tinkered with history. This should be the first stop for angry purists as I guarantee it'll ease their nerves a bit. The real gem buried near the end is an uninterrupted front row seat of the entire re-recording of the opening score.
More relevant for hardcore Star Trek fans is Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Memories (13:20). Billy is like the utility infielder of the Star Trek universe who stepped into an assortment of oddball roles and creature costumes when called upon. Much of this short featurette revolves around current-day Billy reminiscing from a plush chair. There are several minutes of home video snippets he snapped from the sets sure to tickle Trek fans' nostalgia bones.
The next high definition special feature is an Interactive Enterprise Inspection with or without an informational Data Track. Viewers board a shuttle and exit the new CGI Enterprise's hangar bay, circle the ship up-close, then hover in place just above the ship. From here, any one of the following ship's areas can be visited: Shuttlecraft Control Room, Starting Coordinates, Shuttle Hangar Deck, Bridge, Phaser Banks/Photon Torpedoes, Impulse Engines, Warp Nacelles, Main Sensor/Navigational Deflector, Ion Pod, Intercoolers, or Equipment Bay Doors. The load times on PS3 with Blu-ray are nearly identical to the 2-3 seconds with a Toshiba HD-XA2 with HD DVD so it is not unbearable to peruse the entire ship. The inspection is moderately fun, but would be more engaging with replay value if the viewer had complete control over steering the shuttle around the ship's 3-D model rather than following a pre-scripted flight path.
Star Trek: The Original Series: Season One comes to Blu-ray with notable improvements over its HD DVD predecessor in "every" area and at roughly half the price. CBS and Paramount nearly hit this one out of the park and set high expectations for seasons two and three, due in stores later this year (most likely timed with the release of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek on Blu-ray and DVD). Star Trek on Blu-ray is off to a solid start and, theoretically, should only improve from here.
- Dan Bradley
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Star Trek: The Original Series: Season One
April 28, 2009
Full Screen 1.33:1
7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio